Q & A with Amanda Martin Fowler
Amateur Lyric Contest Entrant
What is the story and inspiration behind chips?
“Chips” is a story about choosing the “good guy” vs. the “bad boy”. It is a story about growing up, recognizing and breaking the generational patterns of marrying “bad boys”. I wrote this song a long time ago and had it stored 1,800 miles away in my mother’s tool shed in South Carolina. When we sold my mother’s house a few weeks ago, I flew to South Carolina, under the guise of attending to respectable business matters, such as selling a house. Truthfully, I only went to retrieve this song. Dramatically and almost too predictably, it was in the last box I opened and rescued it from the horrible fate of the county dump. The power of the written word lasts for years and sometimes will only be rescued if it is threatened by the trash.
What do you prefer to write: fiction, nonfiction or a mix?
My writing has always been a mixture of both fiction and nonfiction. When the truth (nonfiction) part of life was/is too much, I have always coped by creating a vision of the way I want things to be or how I want the story to end. Having the ability to write my own endings for songs, stories, poems, and life has always been a creative and necessary escape from the mundane and the crazy.
Do you have a set songwriting process?
My songs lyrics sometimes hit me in the head like a bag of bricks and won’t leave me alone until I’ve tamed them into something tangible. Typically, a ridiculous situation, or jaw dropping observation of someone or something triggers me to say something. Then I just start writing and/or singing about it.
Do you have to finish a song in one or two sittings, or do you allow them to be works in progress?
Both, with “Chips” and “Everyday”, I wrote them completely in the middle of a sleepless night. Other songs have started with just a phrase and grown into a complete song over several weeks or months. In the light of day, everything seems to be a work in progress and it is so easy to find flaws. Sometimes it is hard to keep the original inspiration and not edit it to death. As long as I listen to that voice inside my head, the purity of the song remains.
Who are your favorite songwriters of all time, living and deceased?
Music has always been my connection between happiness, melancholy, and functionality. I am fickle and disloyal when it comes to naming my favorites songwriters of all time. On any given day it could vary from Dolly Parton to India Arie to John Mayer to Rhett Miller. If I find a song that speaks to me, I have to listen to it until it is imprinted into my mind. Music and lyrics give me a sense of inclusion and internalized acceptance of my eccentricities. To answer the question, it seems unfair to name just a few but I will try. Patty Griffin, who I seem to be addicted to recently, so clearly states what she is feeling without any pretense or predictability. Her music is so powerful, you can feel her emotion. Dave Matthews for the songs: The Space Between & Steady as We Go. Those two phrases have carried me through many moments. Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams for their story-telling lyrics and rhythms that can be absorbed and loved by everyone. Easy to forget but quickly remembered, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and George Gershwin, for their effortless way of creating drama through musical theater.
Do you have a favorite musical era?
Sure, right now! It is fantastic that I can listen to so many genres of music from so many eras in their original forms and then hear their influences in the new music that is created each day. In that way, each musical era is everlasting.
What are the ingredients for a good song?
A good song has to touch my soul, make me laugh or cry, make me start singing, dancing or both, and finally, make me stop what I’m doing to tune out the rest of the world in anticipation of what the artist is going to say next. Think about Hank Williams lyrics, “Hey good lookin’, What’cha got cookin?” The ingredients he put in that song not only make me want to sing and dance, but also cook. That’s simply amazing.
Do lyrics, in your opinion, have to be truly meaningful to make a good song, or can the music override the lyrics sometimes?
For me, it is like a marriage. To make it work, both lyrics and music have to be equally awesome. Sometimes both take on their own identity and then effortlessly come together to create a work of art. If something isn’t truly meaningful, you’re not fooling anyone, and we’re left with an unsatisfied feeling of longing for something better. Songwriting is such a fun experience, because sometimes the most simplistic lyrics speak volumes versus the complex lyrics that leave us bored and/or waiting for an ending. The bond between music and lyrics is magic. When it happens, those participating can feel it and those listening know it. That’s why we all struggle to produce it and can never clearly define how it was created.
Do you prefer to leave a song fairly vague and open to interpretation, or would you rather have it offer a set structure accompanied by a clear resolution?
I think that everything from songwriting to washing dishes should be open to interpretation. I have always been tortured by structure and resolution. I understand its necessity, but am inspired by the interpretation process and love to hear how someone has internalized something I’ve written and related it to their experiences. Once the song is out there, it is free to become what anyone wishes it to be for them.
Do you have any advice for aspiring/beginning songwriters in regard to the craft and business?
Yes, songwriting is a beautiful ache that can’t be tamed. Find the courage pull those sheets of paper from your guitar case, out of forgotten journals, in their crumpled, scratched up, agonizing form and share them with a musician/songwriter that will listen and be honest about what you have produced. Consider criticism and comments about your work carefully and thoughtfully. Then, put one foot in front of the other, sing your song loudly, sooner or later, someone will listen.